How to Hire the Right Executive Assistant  

By Bill Peatman | Updated: 22 Mar, 2021

Far from being replaced by technology, the executive assistant is evolving into a more technical role, essential for busy C-suite leaders, entrepreneurs, and business owners.

Virtual Executive Assistants help increase productivity by taking on tasks like scheduling and calendaring, CRM management, data entry, email correspondence, and other time-consuming tasks that distract from core business functions. All of these involve mastering the digital tools that now support these functions.  

With 13,000 executive assistant listings on LinkedIn on any given day, finding a good one can be challenging. Here are some tips for finding an assistant that will work for you.

Think About Your Requirements  

To find the best candidates, you need to know what you need. Make a detailed list of all the skills you want an executive assistant to have. Be as specific as possible.

To facilitate the screening process, start with a wish-list of what you need. Think through the skills, experience, and knowledge that will make the hire improve your productivity. It can be helpful to divide the list into two categories:  

  • Hard skills—the tool and technology the assistant must have to support you.  
  • Soft skills—the personality traits, behaviors, and social attitudes needed to work for you.  

Let's break these down.

Hard Skills of Executive Assistants  

Hard skills have to do with productivity technology and tools you use in your business. You're looking for someone who can use these tools to take the functions they perform off your plate. According to Ziprecruiter, the top tools requested in executive assistant job descriptions are:  

  • Scheduling  
  • Word processing  
  • Spreadsheets  
  • Travel planning  
  • Expense reporting  

You may look beyond these basic applications. Create a list of all the tools you use to do the work that you want to offload. Include any specific applications you think the assistant will need. Some examples of tools and popular apps include:  

  • Email (Gmail, Outlook)  
  • Calendars (Outlook, Google)  
  • Travel planning (Concur, Trip Actions)  
  • Expense reporting (Expensify, Abacus)  
  • CRM (Salesforce, HubSpot)  
  • Data entry (Excel, Google Sheets)  
  • Word processing (Word, Google Docs)  
  • Document management (Box, OneDrive)  
  • Project management (Trello, Asana) 

Must-haves vs. Nice-to-haves  

When it comes to tools and technology, defining what tool experiences are must-haves vs. nice-to-haves is essential. For example, if someone doesn't regularly use Google Docs but Word, that might be OK. Some tools are easy to learn on the job. That the same time, be clear about what skills are non-negotiable to filter out unqualified candidates. 

Experience Level  

Also, include the level of experience needed for each tool. Experience can be categorized by time (years) or more qualitatively (basic, intermediate, advanced). For example, if you use advanced spreadsheets, you should note that.

Soft Skills  

Since your assistant will serve as your representative with internal and external contacts, soft skills are critical to the role. In LinkedIn's Global Talent Trends 2019, 92 percent of HR pros said that soft skills are equally or more important than hard skills. Also, 89 percent said a lack of soft skills was the primary reason new hires don't work out. According to the career website Monster, the six most valuable soft skills for any role are:  

  • Communication  
  • Teamwork  
  • Adaptability  
  • Problem-solving  
  • Critical observation  
  • Conflict resolution  

Soft skills are notoriously hard to define and measure. You can't ask a candidate how many years they have been communicating! However, company ranking website Glassdoor recommends asking candidates to give examples of how they have demonstrated these skills in previous positions.

Reference checks can validate (or not) candidates' stories, but most references are handpicked by the candidate and are unlikely to give critical feedback. However, asking previous employers to corroborate specific situations can give you a deeper look into the candidate's claims.  

There are also online skills assessment sites. Most are focused on hard skills, but some offer tests for soft skills like communication, verbal reasoning, and time management. Skills tests can help remove bias from the hiring process by providing objection comparisons of candidates. 

Related: How to Create a Great Executive Assistant Job Description

Don't Forget Teachability  

Regardless of the skills and experience your new executive assistant will bring, they will have to learn your personal and company processes. Measuring teachability is another tricky part of the hiring process.

You can look for signs of ongoing learning on a candidate's resume, LinkedIn profile, and during an interview. For example, if a candidate lists courses taken outside of formal education to learn and grow, that can show the kind of initiative and confidence that develop strong soft skills.

Related: How to Motivate Employees to Engage in Continuous Learning

Outsourced Executive Support  

The rise of remote work has made virtual executive assistants a popular choice to get the kind of help you need faster and without the risk and management overhead of an external hire.

Virtual assistant businesses can quickly match you with a long-term executive assistant with the hard and soft skills that are most important to you and your team. Given that most officer workers are remote, the difference between a virtual assistant and an in-house admin is close to nil.

Another advantage of working with a virtual executive assistant business is that you'll always have backup support if an assistant is out.

Also, a virtual assistant will document all your processes; if an assistant moves on or doesn't work out, a new assistant can seamlessly step in.